Malvern Hall, Solihull, Warwickshire, was the home of Henry Greswolde Lewis, a wealthy widower who offered Constable a number of commissions over a period of twenty years. Constable was first a guest at Malvern Hall in 1809, when he painted portraits of his host and of Lewis’s ward, Mary Freer.
Constable had met Lewis through Magdalene, the Dowager Countess of Dysart, Lewis’s sister, who had grown up at Malvern Hall. In 1820 she asked Constable to paint views of the house from both sides. He visited the house in September that year and painted this full-size preparatory sketch of the entrance, or garden front of the house as viewed from the east. He painted it with the liveliness of an outdoor sketch created directly in front of the motif, with the support clearly visible in some areas. He also made a pencil drawing of the subject on the spot, dated 10 September 1820. After his return to London he painted a pair of views for Lady Dysart – one (now in the collection of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts) showing Malvern Hall from the garden front, as in this work, and the other as seen from across the park and mirrored in the lake (R.B. Beckett, ‘Constable at Malvern Hall’, Connoisseur Year Book 1959, pp. 81–83).
This work is an example of Constable’s ventures into country house portraiture. Yet he did not paint an architectural monument, he painted a work in which the garden dominates and the house is a background feature in the landscape. When he exhibited another painting of a country house, Englefield House, at the Royal Academy in 1833, a colleague remarked that ‘it was only a picture of a house, and ought to have been put into the Architectural Room’. Constable replied that it was ‘a picture of a summer morning, including a house’ (Beckett IV, p. 254). Malvern Hall appears to reflect comparable priorities.